A former Prince George's County police officer was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday for protecting shipments of untaxed cigarettes in a scheme uncovered in a widespread federal investigation that also led to criminal charges for former Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson.
U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced Chong Chin Kim, 44, to 60 months in prison and three years of supervised release in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
Prosecutors said Kim received $210,000 by helping obtain and ship untaxed cigarettes from Maryland to New York where they were sold, resulting in tax losses of more than $2.6 million.
Family members and friends spoke at Kim's sentencing, explaining that when he committed the crimes in 2009 and early 2010, he was under financial and emotional stress following the failure of two marriages and the need to raise two children, including a severely autistic son, on his own.
"He was desperately seeking a way to dig his way out of this," said longtime friend Jim Fitzpatrick.
Authorities said Kim was brought into the scheme by another police officer, Richard Delabrer, who also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nearly four years in prison.
"Delabrer approached Kim because he knew he was corruptible," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sujit Raman.
Delabrer and others bought the cigarettes from a government informant and an undercover FBI agent and sold them in Maryland to businesses as well as Kim and his associate, restaurant owner Chun "Eddy" Chen.
Kim supervised at least some parts of the shipment transactions while he was on duty as a police officer, his defense attorney Gerald Ruter said. While he was in uniform, in his police cruiser and in possession of his service weapon at the time of those transactions, he didn't mean to use his position as an officer to further the crime, Mr. Ruter said.
"Mr. Kim was in uniform because he was on duty at the time," he said. "He never thought about the fact that he had a handgun."
Though the two police officers committed similar crimes, Judge Messitte said Kim deserved a longer sentence because he reaped a higher profit.
Judge Messitte also encouraged prosecutors to track down the money that Kim received through the scheme, at least some of which he said he gave to one of his sisters in order to help her open a nail salon.
"I think you have an obligation to go after that money," Judge Messitte said.
Kim apologized to his family, friends and the police department he was a member of for 16 years, but defended his now-tarnished reputation as an officer.
"I was a very fair officer toward people," Kim said. "I always put myself in other people's shoes."
Along with Kim and Delabrer, the federal corruption investigation also led to the arrest and conviction of developers, businessmen, and elected officials including Johnson and wife, Leslie. Both Johnsons are currently in prison.
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